Doctor's Recommendation - Embrace a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet

Recommended by my doctor after a health scare. The power of healthy eating at Gone Plant Based. I switched to a whole food, plant-based diet


Nella D

Stethoscope on a red toy heart
Stethoscope on a red toy heart

I was staying in Ireland in 2015 and became unwell. I carried my pulse oximeter with me all the time because of having COPD and noticed that my heart rate had dropped to between 40–45. That’s fine for an athlete but I was unfit and obese.

At first, I thought it was an anomaly and ignored it. But the next day was the same and at one point I hit 37 beats per minute. So I reached out to the local Dr’s surgery and requested advice.

That evening I was invited to see the local Doctor. She asked me questions, did the usual medical checks and then advised I went to the hospital, where they could test my blood. Off I went.

Unfortunately, I don’t think my hospital doctor was very experienced. He suggested that it was normal for some people to have a low heart rate, despite me explaining it was not the case for me. However, the blood tests confirmed there was no major cardiac event imminent and I also learned I had high blood pressure. It was the high pressure on one side of the heart, trying to catch up with the other and this was dropping the heart rate.

When I returned home I went to see the doctor who started me on some blood pressure tablets. Both my heart rate and BP were restored to normal levels in a couple of weeks.

We talked about weight loss and how difficult it was and she told me about Dr Esselstyn. Back then, the movie Forks Over Knives was not known, but this doctor and her husband had been following Dr Esselstyn’s wholefoods, plant based, no added oil diet, with great results. She also mentioned that patients who tried it, were losing excess weight and feeling so much better. She wrote down Dr Esselstyn’s name and suggested I look him up online.

I found the website and at that point, it was quite basic compared to today. However, there was a lot of information and I was struck by the claims of preventing and even reversing heart disease with this way of life.

Despite all this, I wasn’t convinced. Years ago, a previous doctor had said I should meat as my folate and iron were on the low side. He also said I needed plenty of healthy oils in my diet as I had neurological conditions and the brain needs fats to function well. This acted as my get out of jail card – or excuse.

I say excuse, but to be honest, my lifestyle and work made it tough to eat a wholefoods plant based diet. I was travelling the world with my work. Airlines and hosts were not always able to accommodate this diet and it would have been hit and miss. WFPBNO needs commitment. It was always easier to block the positives with the negatives, if a large change in lifestyle was required.

By 2016 we had moved permanently to the West of Ireland and registered at the local health clinic. The same one where I saw the Doctor who recommended Dr Esselstyn. Both Jackie and I were registered under their newest GP who is very approachable and also committed to prevention of major health issues.

I had regular blood tests and checks and by 2018, it was soon discovered I had very high cholesterol, I was pre-diabetic and my blood pressure still required medication.

I was also being investigated for Motor Neurone Disease and this was a wake up call to do everything I could to stay healthy. I remembered my chat about Dr Esselstyn and by now, Forks Over Knives was available for streaming on the internet.

I was impressed by the progress people made on this diet and decided it was time to do it.

Within a few months, I was 10kg lighter, had more energy, reduced my blood pressure drugs and my cholesterol was in the normal healthy range. Plus, by now I knew I didn’t have Motor Neurone Disease. Life had taken a very positive direction. I felt good, but my other health conditions did mean I had to give up work.

It took a while to accept that I wouldn’t get back to work in the same way again, so I focussed on working online and now my work is this, documenting and sharing the WFPBNO progress, way of life and all things associated.

After a year of being plant based, I dropped out. The reasons are several but the main one was my health affected my mobility, energy, breathlessness and I had a severe tremor which made food prep a hazard. Luckily, I have a wonderful partner, Jackie, who took over the cooking. Jackie is not plant based and I respect that. We all have our own way through life and it wasn’t fair for me to impose mine on the one person who took the brunt of caring for me. So it seemed easier to go with whatever was being cooked. A WFPB diet needs a lot of prep, which I was unable to do and Jackie had her life to enjoy away from the kitchen, too.

As expected, the weight came back. My blood pressure stayed low but cholesterol did rise again. It’s not as high as before but it is at the top end of normal.

During this period, I was diagnosed with Parkinsonism. The drugs have helped the tremor a little and my mobility has slightly improved. However, I developed full type 2 diabetes and had to start treatment.

I got some worrying symptoms from the diabetes. My feet were beginning to swell and the skin was discolouring. The diabetic drugs weren’t working well and even after a few changes, it was uncontrolled.

At a hospital check-up, I asked my pulmonologist to check if my feet were ok. He told me it was the diabetes and he would ask the diabetic team to see me and help me out. I also sounded him out on my intention to restart WFPB again and he was very positive about it.

A week later, I was with the endocrinologist who talked about the diabetes, told me I wasn’t a true diabetic but a steroid dependent diabetic and started me on a new treatment. Again, I sounded her out on a WFPB diet and she saw no reason not. I went home, and that was the start of my renewed commitment to this way of life.

3.5 weeks along and I’m 11.2kg lighter, more energetic and looking forward to improving my health. It’s tough going at first with all the prep but I’m batch cooking and being as prepared as I can. More on how I manage and my best kitchen gadgets later.


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silver spoon on black ceramic bowl with vegetables
silver spoon on black ceramic bowl with vegetables